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Boomtown is, at its roots, a card and dice game for 3 to 5 folks with elements of bidding and area majority. It’s designed by the two Brunos (Faidutti and Cathala), whose past credits include Citadels and Shadows Over Camelot respectively, and it’s published by Face2Face Games. Each player is a speculator during a gold rush set in the Wild West of 19th Century America. They acquire mines and special cards via a unique bidding process and get gold through mine production. The object of the game is to score points by becoming mayor, building productive mines, and acquiring gold. Average playing time tends to be around thirty minutes.
Out of the Box
Upon opening the box, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the components. Boomtown comes with 60 cards (45 mining concessions, 15 event cards), 2 dice, 5 mayor pawns, 10 Boomtown counters, poker chips of varying colors and values (blue = 10 gold, red = 5, white = 1), and multi-lingual rules. There’s a nice plastic insert that neatly holds all components. The cards are of sturdy stock and nicely illustrated, complementing the Western theme very well. Each mining concession card displays a color, the town it’s in, its production value (number of gold pieces), and the dice roll required for it to produce. The pawns and counters are wooden and come in 5 different colors, while the poker chips are plastic. The rules are short, to the point, and easy to follow; they’re also well illustrated, describing the layout of the mining concessions, as well as each of the 15 event cards. Overall, I’d say the component quality is top-notch.
Setup is a breeze. Each player starts with ten gold in poker chips. Shuffle the cards and form a draw deck within easy reach of each player. Place the dice, poker chips, pawns, and tokens near the draw deck. Randomly select a starting player.
At the start of each round, draw as many cards from the draw deck as there are players and place them face up (NOTE: on the first turn all cards must be mining concessions). Bidding begins with the starting player and goes clockwise. Each player, in turn, may either pass or outbid the current high bidder. When you pass, any chips you may have bid go back to your chip stack. The bidding goes on until all players have passed except for one; the high bidder wins the auction. The auction winner passes the bid to the player to the right; that player takes half the gold, rounding up, and passes it again to the right. This is repeated until the bid can no longer be split (NOTE: the high bidder cannot get back any portion of his/her bid).
Once the bid is dispersed, the high bidder selects one of the available cards, either a mining concession or an event card, and places it face-up in his play area. Choice of the next card then passes to the left, and so on until all the cards have been chosen. Any player who is the first to possess two mines from the same town (i.e., of the same color) becomes the mayor of that town; the player grabs the mayor pawn of that color and places it in his area. Any player who selects a mining concession from a town that has a mayor must pay that mayor 2 gold in poker chips. If another player collects more mines from a specific town than its current mayor, that player becomes the new mayor and takes the corresponding mayor pawn. Some of the mines that are more likely to produce are also prone to cave-ins; these are marked and if a 2 or 12 is rolled during the production phase, these mines are discarded.
Once the rest of the cards have been drafted, the production dice are rolled. If the dice roll matches a mine’s production number, then the owner receives gold to the amount of the mine’s production value (number of gold coins shown on the card). Settlers fans will find this process familiar. This ends the round, and the high bidder will start the bidding in the next round.
Event cards are cards that have special text that allow a player varying influence upon the game. Most event cards selected after bidding are resolved instantly and discarded. These include cards such as Dynamite (blow up a mine), Stagecoach Robbery (get 10 gold), Hold-Up (rob another player), Expropriation (steal a mine), Card Shark (each other player pays 4 gold to the bank). Other event cards have a lasting effect when played: New Vein (increases one mine’s production by 3), Saloon (when certain mines produce, saloon owners get a cut), Saloon Girls (enhances a saloon), and Governor (enhances a mayor’s power). The remaining two event cards, Mustang (allows a player to go second when drafting) and Telegraph (change the result of any one die roll), are kept to be played and discarded in a later round.
Endgame and Scoring
When the last card from the deck has been drafted and the last production roll has been assessed, final scores for each player are calculated and the game ends. Players get one point for each gold piece, five points for each mayor pawn, as well as points equal to the production value for each of their mines. All points are added up for each player and the one with the highest total is declared the winner.
With cards and dice rolls being so prominent in Boomtown, there’s a significant amount of luck involved in the game. While there are a couple of things you can do to increase your chances, it’s fairly straightforward; there’s no brain surgery here. Basically, there are two decisions you’ll face in the game. First, do you outbid the high bidder? And second, which card do you draft? As for the bidding, that’ll depend upon the cards available. Is the card you want worth the price you’ll have to pay? Always keep in mind that your poker chips are points so try to make sure the return will be worth the investment. Also, remember that if the current high bidder sits to your immediate left or right, you just might get either the second choice in drafting or half of the bid. As for which card to draft there are a couple of things to consider. Is there a kick-butt event card that’s available or a mining concession that’ll secure a mayor pawn? Or if there’s not a card that’s good for you, is there one you can keep an opponent from taking advantage of? Pretty basic stuff, but things to keep in mind nonetheless.
Boomtown has been a very entertaining game for us. While there’s more randomness than I usually like in a game, the bottom line is that it’s just plain fun. Whether it’s the nice components, the well integrated theme, anticipating the production roll, or dynamiting an opponent’s mine, this game just appeals to me, even though I’ve yet to win. Some times it’s good to let your brain relax a little and just enjoy the game. It’s also easy to teach and quick to play, making it especially good with non-gamers. Those who prefer lots of strategy in their games should look elsewhere; however, those looking for a fast and fun filler need look no further. I currently rate Boomtown a solid 7.